Linda Ronstadt confronts Parkinson’s disease

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This Sept. 17, 2013 photo shows American musician Linda Ronstadt poses in New York to promote the release of her memoir “Simple Dreams.” (Photo by Amy Sussman/Invision/AP)

by John Carucci
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — These days, it’s hard for Linda Ronstadt to get around without her forearm crutches.

The debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease require her to relax for a few minutes before starting an interview. But once she’s ready, the 67-year-old has full command of her voice, even though she’s no longer able to sing.

Ronstadt’s voice was one of music’s great treasures, anchoring hits like “When Will I Be Loved” and “You’re No Good” and hop-scotching across genres including pop, rock, jazz and folk. She’s sold more than 30 million albums.

While her singing voice has been silenced, she’s expressing herself in her memoir, “Simple Dreams.” It touches on the many milestones in her career, though more personal matters, like her high-profile romances with Jerry Brown and others, are briefly mentioned or not at all. It also doesn’t discuss her Parkinson’s diagnosis, which came after the book was written.

This week, Ronstadt spoke to The Associated Press about the book and battling the degenerative disease, among other topics.

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AP: How have you adapted to living with Parkinson’s?

Ronstadt: I have to ask people to do things for me that are hard. That’s been the hardest thing, I think. It’s harder to go out and do things. I’m not driving anymore. I’m not quite sure of my reflexes. … I don’t want to go anyplace where I might get confused. I can really drive fine, but I just don’t go out by myself that much anymore. I live like a person with a disability now.

AP: Has Michael J. Fox (who also has Parkinson’s) reached out to you?

Ronstadt: I have an email from him. You know, he’s been a great person to raise awareness. Bless his heart because it’s something that people need to know about. Of course, the most promising treatment is fetal stem cell, which is also a great treatment for diabetes, MS, all kinds of things. And of course, the Christian right will not allow that research. It’s a terrible thing that they’re blocking that research because it could help so many people. It could save lives. … But they won’t get out of the way.

AP: Do you see a different political climate today than in the 1970s?

Ronstadt: I see an impasse with people that are not rational. There are people in the government that don’t believe in the empirical wisdom of science. They don’t believe that when you have an observed demonstration and when you can repeat an experiment and have the same result each time and prove it to people and print it in a credible science journal that is peer-reviewed, they don’t believe that’s truth. ‘Oh the Earth is 7,000 years old or 10,000 years old,’ which you know is not true. And that there’s no such thing as climate change and they are just going on in their bubble. They’re stupid. They’re doing harm to rest of us.

AP: At what point did you want to write a book?

Ronstadt: I got a couple of different contacts from publishing companies saying they’d be interested in a book about my work, not a kiss-and-tell book, which I specifically put in the contract. Just a book about my work and what I did. So I thought it might be interesting to write a book. There have been a lot of people that had written about me saying that I thought this or I sang that for this or that reason. So I wanted to tell my side of it.

AP: How do you cope with Parkinson’s?

Ronstadt: There are a couple of things that I’m really passionate about. One of them is immigration reform. They’ve got to do something about the laws because they’re separating families, ripping families apart, setting up situations where people are permanently left out of the economic pie. They’re interfering with a natural flow of humanity. Back and forth across the border has been going on for centuries. There never used to be a problem. People used to come and go. We’re a nation of immigrants, and the way it’s has been directed at Mexico, it’s been the most hateful kind of racism.

AP: What are some of your proudest moments?

Ronstadt: I got to sing with Placido Domingo. …  I got to sing with Aaron Neville, who is one of my favorites. Got to sing with Brian Wilson, one of the great high tenors. And Ricky Skaggs, a bluegrass tenor. I’m also proud of my musical friendship with Emmylou Harris.

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Follow John Carucci at http://www.twitter.com/jacarucci

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